Saturday, 14 April 2018

Why Having Friends is Essential to Your Relationship



   As a person existing among humans, it is important to me that YOU have a close friend. If you are a monk, living alone in a cave, you may not need one. But, otherwise, close friends play an essential role in maintaining your mental health from which stems your happiness, from which stems my willingness to exist next to you. And, if you are in a long-term relationship with me, then having your own set of close friends is essential. Here is why...

We are all social:
   If you participate in society in any way, then you are, by definition, part of it. You benefit from it by having such things as sewers, electricity, medical insurance, and law and order. No single person who relies on these benefits can say that most of what they have is a result of their own efforts. Your standard of living is a result of the effort of a large group, over aeons of time. To arrive at your lofty station in life, you had the initial advantage of starting at the top of a long ladder that was built before you were born.
   A byproduct of being a part of a society is the emotionally supportive network of friendship, commonly referred to as a social network. Friendship is a system of emotional and sometimes physical support that covers areas not addressed by the social system; things like personal tragedies, or property losses not covered by insurance.
   But, for a social system to work everyone has to contribute.
   In the official safety net system, you contribute money (in the form of fees and taxes) and time (voting, public service) to keep it all working smoothly. It is in your best interests that the system continues to function. Most people recognize this. However, some fail to see that the ancillary network of friendship needs maintenance, as well. In this secondary social system, if you don't contribute then you don't benefit. This will become apparent whenever you have a personal loss not covered by the system like the failure of a marriage or the unexpected loss of a job. Such transitions can be a crushing blow to self-esteem and ego and coping can be an overwhelming task. The weight of such burdens on the psyche is dangerously high and it's more easily and gracefully handled with the support of others. As well, finding a new partner or job typically relies on your personal connections.
   Few strangers who are active participants in the social network will have much empathy for the plight of an antisocial loner. Few would go out of their way to help or support such a person, especially if they are competing against another who is actively social. If you are emotionally removed from all of society, then this can be frustrating on many levels and it is easy to feel isolated (which you are) and from there to fall into depression and anger.
   Flipping this argument over, in the most extreme cases, your personal safety may be dependent on knowing and emotionally supporting your neighbour. It is often those who have no emotional support or ties to the social network who eventually vent their unhappiness in violent ways.




Friendship is essential for long-term relationships:
   If you are in a longterm relationship then having close friends is essential. Perhaps you are not a social person and don't see the need to socialize. Well, guess what: firstly, you receive benefits from a larger society and therefore, like it or not, you are part of it. Secondly, if you are in a committed relationship, then you just signed up for a lifetime of very intimate socializing. At the very least, as a favour to your spouse (and/or children), you need to get an honest outside perspective, from time to time. As well, though philosophically I am opposed to comparing oneself to others, it helps to have a peek into other relationships to get new ideas about handling conflict and unmet expectations. And, though I’m ashamed to admit it, my baser self often derives satisfaction from discovering that I have it better than others.
   Since you have committed to a longterm relationship, you have committed to a long-term friendship. Successes and failures with your shorter-term friends will teach you how to become a better friend to your spouse. There is no safer way to learn. If your only honest relationship is with your spouse, then you are running social experiments on your own life. It's like a scientist experimenting on himself. Failure can be fatal.
   The corollary to this is that if you meet someone who has no close friends, entering into a long-term relationship with that person is a risk to your own long-term happiness.



Perspective is essential to happiness:
   A close friend will help you maintain a healthy perspective by playing devil's advocate and pointing out flaws in your point of view. Without ever hearing counter-arguments, it is easy to believe that you have factored in all the possibilities and come to the only logical conclusion and that you are, therefore, entirely correct. If you have no close friends, then you may easily come to the conclusion that you are always correct. From an outsider's point of view, you will seem unapproachable, harsh and inflexible. In truth, you are close-minded.
   It has been studied and determined that people who are incompetent are unable to gauge their own competence and are, therefore, blind to it. If you believe this for people less competent than yourself, then, logically, it should apply to yourself as well, when you are viewed by someone more competent. Every one of us has areas of talent and skill as well as gaps in our gifts and experience. Therefore, every one of us in incompetent in some area or at some level.
   A close friend will help you recognize your limits. Knowing this will save you from overestimating your own abilities which will help you steer clear of failure and embarrassment.



Family is ineligible:
   It is important that your intimate friend not be a member of your family because that connection is too close and too permanent. Because a family member cannot easily be disconnected from the rest of your family (which is a social network that, for better or worse, you are stuck with) things you confide, if leaked, will haunt you forever. The risk for you may be too high to be truly honest with that person. Conversely, a family member may feel that the price of telling you the truth as they see it may be too high because they risk you disliking them forever. Additionally, keeping the secrets you share may put family members in the uncomfortable position of lying to other family members. And, finally, because they are permanent fixtures in your life, they are not easily lost to you and so, do not have as much to teach you about maintaining a friendship.
   For a variety of reasons, few friends remain close forever and, in some ways, it is this very transience that makes them valuable. Because the relationship is trust-based yet fragile, a close friend must be honest and yet they must also be understanding and encouraging; tactful enough to slide harsh truths into a conversation without activating our natural emotional defences, like denial.
   I am relatively unsocial and do not have a large social network, beyond my family, which is often overwhelming. But I have always had one or two close personal friends. We exchange services. I listen to them and do my best to give back non-judgemental encouraging or insightful feedback and they do the same for me. Because they have a little distance from my most personal concerns, I can trust that they have no agenda beyond helping me and are able to see my situation in ways that I can not. They are not directly impacted by my behaviour, so they are not desperate to make their point and can nudge, rather than shove, me in the right direction, allowing me the time stumble on the obvious truth on my own, thus circumventing my own denial. Family members usually do not feel that they can afford to be so patient because behaviour they view as negative affects them every day. Further, they live in fear that you may never understand what they are saying and that they will have to live with your attitude or actions forever. Many domestic disputes are more about the future than the moment and this is why they get so emotional, so quickly. Most of us can endure greedy/illogical/ignorant behaviour for a moment, but the threat inherent in a long-term relationship is enduring it forever.

But wait, there's more...
   Beyond all of this, there is a sheer visceral pleasure in sharing alternate ideas, confessing anxieties, unburdening guilts, and even gossiping in emotional safety, with a like-minded individual.
   How you find such a friend, I can not say. Mine have always been unexpected gifts. Maybe the only secret is to wait and to be open to the idea. The only thing I can say is that they will be of your "tribe." This means that they will share one of your passions. I have two close friends, at the moment. Reducing it to simplest terms: one shares my passion for understanding people, the other shares my passion for writing. These are not the only subjects upon which we connect, but they were the core of the foundation upon which we built trust, from which was spawned a close friendship.
   Above all, a close friend helps you maintain perspective; to know your position in the world. It is both empowering and humbling, and perhaps, the largest key to sanity and happiness.


Clipnotes:









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